1. Setting the Stage

The research entrance of the National Archives has the inscription: The Past is Prologue. This applies to many contexts, including digital preservation. Digital preservation is not a new concern: it began when the first computers were introduced. A number of national archives, data archives, and other cultural institutions in many countries established digital preservation programs as early as the late 1960s. Those programs reflected the prevailing technology and digital content of that time. Each generation of technology brings changes in potential capabilities to both create and preserve digital content—and will affect a suitable institutional response.

View the Timeline!

Being aware of the context of relevant technology contributes to identifying and weighing options for preserving digital content. The path technology takes from idea, to development, to implementation, to mainstream use, and, in most cases, to obsolescence is an important cycle to appreciate. Knowing something about where a technology came from influences the preservation approach that might work best in a particular organizational setting or for particular digital materials.

We devised the Digital Preservation and Technology Timeline to:

  • identify significant precedents and milestones—professional, organizational, and technological
  • illustrate the combination of developments, events, and decisions that got us to where we are today, in regards to technology that pertains to digital preservation
  • help place new and emerging technologies into context for digital preservation programs

We recommend that you explore the timeline in some depth. Test your knowledge either before or after you review the timeline.

Take the Timeline Quiz!